Creating Holiday Connections When You Aren’t Able to Be Together In Person

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Polly Logan

By Polly LoganDecember 15th, 2020

Creating Holiday Connections When You Aren’t Able to Be Together In Person

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This year, due to the pandemic, many of us will not be able to gather with family members for the holidays as we typically do. When our loved one is living with dementia and we aren’t able to be with them, finding a way to connect can feel especially challenging. However, Teepa and Positive Approach to Care® do have a few suggestions for connecting when you can’t be together in person:

Manage your own expectations

When someone is living with brain change, they may or may not have the ability to have a long or involved phone conversation or video chat. Having an expectation of being able to engage in a lengthy conversation or expecting them to recall things they may not be able to, can often result in disappointment.

Keep in mind that the goal is to create moments of connection, however small or minor they may appear to be. In the later states of dementia, these moments may be even smaller or shorter. For example, watch for a spark in their eye, or a lift in their tone of voice. Also, if interest or a connection doesn’t seem to be happening on a particular day, don’t be afraid to try again – and again.

Match to their abilities

Someone who may be in a very early state of dementia, which at Positive Approach to Care® we refer to as a Diamond State, typically has a lot of language, visual field, and fine motor skill remaining.  However, in a later state of dementia, such as the Ruby State, language, vision, and fine motor skill may be quite limited.

When you have awareness and understanding of the GEMS State of an individual, you are able to match your conversation or activity to what they are able to do. This helps to reduce frustration and disappointment for both of you. To see an example of how one simple craft can be applied to different GEMS States, please watch the three videos below.  (If you are not familiar with Teepa’s GEMS States and would like to learn more, please click here.)

Early Stage (Diamond / Emerald State) Activity:
Mid to Later Stage (Emerald / Amber State) Activity:
Later Stage (Ruby / Pearl State) Activity:
Choose your words carefully

When someone is living with dementia, the words you choose really do make a difference. For instance, instead of telling someone that you are going to create a craft with them over video chat, it is often much more effective to ask them for their help or assistance. For instance, “Hey, Mom, I was wondering if you could help me with something? You were always so good at crafts.” Or, if you were wanting to listen to Christmas music with your uncle over the phone, you could say something like, “Uncle Frank, you know a lot about music, and I could really use your thoughts about which song is best.” Asking for their assistance and complimenting their expertise helps a person feel they are valued (this is true for those living with healthy brains, as well!)

Also related to words, remember that as dementia progresses, the ability to process language is significantly slowed for most individuals. So, the more words you provide them, the more confusing and overwhelming it often becomes. Using fewer words and speaking at a slower rate is extremely helpful so that your message can be received and understood. You will see examples of this in the video below.

We have created a list with many ideas for connecting over the phone or video chat during this holiday season; please click here to access it. Many of the ideas can be applied to other times of the year, as well.

We at Positive Approach to Care® wish you and your families many moments of joy this unusual holiday season.

3 Comments on “Creating Holiday Connections When You Aren’t Able to Be Together In Person”

  1. Avatar

    The chain making is a lovely idea but what about John or Jane Doe who just don’t want to do anything other than sleep, eat and watch tv?
    As a caregiver of my husband who is like this it gets lonely. Tv viewing is the same shows over and over but he still sleeps most of the time. I can’t interest him in anything. Isolation due to Covid-19 only adds to everything.

    1. Alejandro DeJesus

      Hi Joan,
      Thanks for the posting the question. Getting folks engaged in this time of isolation is certainly a challenge for us.
      I was wondering about what your husband has enjoyed historically for either leisure or work/productive activities? And if any of that would be possible to try bringing back in with modifications for his abilities and being in isolation.
      If you would like to explore further into some ideas we do offer free half hour consultations. You can use this link, https://teepasnow.com/services/consulting/phone-consultations/, to get more information or sign up for a free consultation.

  2. Avatar

    So many are locked out of care homes in lockdown that only window waves are possible. Truly heart-rending. Family can see visible deterioration and are helpless to do anything about it. Can you suggest how to make politicians and care home management see that this separation is killing people faster than COVID-19?

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